From Context Collapse to “Safe Spaces” : Selective Avoidance through Tie Dissolution on Social Media

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Journal / PublicationMass Communication and Society
Online published9 Mar 2021
Publication statusOnline published - 9 Mar 2021

Abstract

This study examines whether disconnective practices on social media such as unfriending could constitute a form of selective avoidance and investigates its boundary conditions. To do so, we study whether, to what extent, and under which conditions exposure to disagreement on social media predicts politically motivated unfriending. Specifically, we examine how the relationship varies in different relational contexts and whether it is conditioned by opinion minority status. Using survey data collected shortly before the 2017 Chief Executive Election in Hong Kong, we find cross-cutting exposure to be a significant predictor of politically motivated unfriending. This suggests that the disconnective practices represent a form of selective avoidance, but only among a relatively small number of social media users. We also show that only disagreements arising from political discussion with distant others predict unfriending. Furthermore, opinion minorities are more inclined to cut ties in the face of political disagreement than the majorities. Based on these findings, we discuss the weakness of weak ties on social media and characterize selective avoidance as a means to build digital “safe spaces”.